Book By A.C. Highfield

Vidi-Herp Series from Carapace Press

This VHS Video & Booklet Package sells for $21.02 from Vidi-Herp online.

28 Page Booklet (Reviewed independently of the video as a stand-alone care guide; it is sold with the video).

Compact but well-done booklet summarizing basic facts & care of RES & painted turtles. Concise & well-written guide. It doesn’t have frills like a hard cover or photo.s. I’ll lay out the framework & comment within it.

1.)    Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta) – It seems assumed the RES is ‘the species,’ with many subspecies. In other works I’ve seen most call the species ‘the slider’ and the RES a subspecies within that (along with the YBS, Cumberland, etc…). He says males rarely reach a carapace over 7”; I’ve seen some wild males I think would dispute that, & I suspect the nutritionally and thermally optical conditions of captive care will produce larger individuals, but I can’t prove that. He gives the rough sizes at which sexual maturity is reached & time course in nature to reach those sizes, questions people often ask (& a real plus).

2.)    Painted Turtles – He just lists as one species (which it is, Chrysemys picta), without regard to the fact the 4 subspecies differ radically. The Southern & Western painteds are the opposite extremes & quite different in size & appearance. An unfortunate omission. He states their care is in practical terms identical to RES, but that if both are kept the species should be separate because Painteds don’t have good survival rates in mixed tanks or ponds, & may get fetal skin, shell & respiratory infections. This is a departure from most forum lore, which is that painteds are hardy & make fine community turtles. I have on rare occasion seen similar claims that painteds aren’t quite as hardy for mixed environments, so Highfield isn’t the only one out there who thinks this.

3.)    The Turtle Tank: Water Area – He notes the water section doesn’t need to be very deep. That may be, but given their natural habitats I’d like to’ve seen a recommendation to give them as deep an area in part of the enclosure as practical. He does write on some benefits of higher volume & lower stocking density. My main criticism of the section is that it does not give recommended enclosure sizes (in gallons) for a given adult species & # of turtles (such as the minimum aquarium sizes for 1 or 2 male (I’d say 75 gallons for 1) or female (I’d say 100 gallons) RES. People should know there’s a difference between a male Southern Painted & a female RES in tank requirement.

4.)    The Turtle Tank: Land Area – good little section, & even mentions the issue or providing an area females can lay (& that they can develop eggs without males present!).

5.)    The Turtle Tank: Lighting – Excellent concise discussion. He recommends the ReptiSun 5.0 at one point, and I applaud his departure from the highly irritating unwillingness of some authors to endorse a specific brand name product. Discusses Vit. D3, other benefits of this lighting that aren’t common knowledge, and mentions the issue of whether it’s needed if dietary D3 supplements are included.

6.)    The Turtle Tank: Heating – Excellent section. Discusses water and air temperature issues, and safety issues (ground fault interrupter use, that heaters can burn turtles, etc…). It recommends a protector cage be used around a submersible heater; I wish he’s mentioned the Tronic heater guards (also fit Ebo Jager heaters). I’m impressed with this section.

7.)    The Turtle Tank: Stocking Density – he makes the case for why you shouldn’t over stock a tank; a great point, but he doesn’t lay out examples (how many RES in a 125 gallon tank, etc…). He recommends not mixing species in an enclosure & gives reasons; most of us do it anyway, but his points are worth noting.

8.)    The Turtle Tank: Plants & Decorations – Nice section & gives some live plant options to use, but only mentions high light requirement in one of the 3 plants given that I believe require much higher light levels than many turtle owners offer. I had bad results trying to keep water hyacinth indoors; it did poorly & those black feathery rootlets were littering my tank. Maybe he had better luck.

9.)    The Turtle Tank: Filtration & Turtle Tanks – About the best discussion of undergravel filter use in turtle keeping I’ve seen (even mentions the gravel ingestion issue). Very good discussion of internal canister filters. On external canister filters he dates himself by noting the consistent success of the Fluval 403 (the x04 line has replace the x04 line) & he states external filters are usually fed by pipes from the tank. That sounds more like how wet/dry filters are set up and most modern canister filters (FilStar XP3, Fluval 404, Eheim Pro II 2028, etc…) I’ve seen use over-the-tank-rim hoses. He encourages ‘the larger the better’ in filter capacity but doesn’t explain just what capacity to plan for (whereas we tell people 2 to 3 times what a fish tank would get). One odd omission; he said nothing about power filters (i.e.: AquaClear, Whisper, TetraTec, etc…). There are people who have customized their setups to use these effectively. Even if he disapproves of their use, a mention would’ve been good.

10.)                        The Turtle Tank: Water Changes – well alllllllll-riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Glad to see he’s pushing these. This section doesn’t really discuss much about WHY (nitrate concentration, dissolved organic compounds, increasing hardness from topping off evaporative losses with tap water, etc…) but at least he endorses the practice. The booklet mentions a non-drip quick change system shown in the video, but doesn’t itself specify options (Python, gravel vacuum, etc…).

11.)                        The Turtle Tank: UV Sterilizers – especially for pond algae control. Good to see he remembered the pond people.

12.)                        The Turtle Tank: Outdoor & Indoor Turtle Ponds – Nice overview. I wish he’d given recommended pond dimensions by species & # kept as a rough guideline; for example, how many gallons minimum for 5 adult RES (2 male, 3 female). This varies with a # of factors (live plants, fish, oxygenation levels, filtration, etc…) but a guideline would’ve been nice. He talks about securing the pond perimeter to prevent turtles escaping & recommends against releasing small turtles into the pond since large birds (particularly herons) may view them as prey. I wish he’d mentioned that you must consider other area predators (in the U.S. dogs, cats, neighborhood children, raccoon, opossum, coyote, fox, skunk) – some of these creatures can kill a larger turtle. I’d like to’ve seen depth recommendations, too. For example, forum regular Wendy keeps a large # of RES outdoors during Summer. She found providing pond areas over 1 foot deep provided protection from raccoons; the ‘coons would go no deeper, & the turtles slept in the deeper section.

13.)                        The Turtle Tank: Outdoor Ponds & Hibernation – Fine section. Covers issues like the importance of watery oxygenation & pond surface area.

14.)                        Feeding Turtles – This is a topic a number of pet care guides do a bad job of. So do the instructions on commercial turtle food labels. Highfield is a well-known leader in bringing sound feeding theory to the masses & those of you who’ve read his other works will recognize the info. & style here. Excellent section, detailing one of Highfield’s true strengths.

15.)                        Feeding Quantity & Frequency – Great to see the problem of over-feeding discussed; too many published works (and those commercial turtle food labels) don’t cover this! I DO wish he’d mentioned pyramiding, since both Painted & RES can get it. He mentioned the relative percentages of plant & animal matter in juveniles & adults, but I think he was talking RES. Painteds are similar but have a more carnivorous bent; wish he’d mentioned that, although I doubt there’s much practical significance.

16.)                        Health & Diseases – Tom, Chris H. or Eric B. would be better choices to review this. The general ‘sick turtle care’ guidelines look good & inline with what I’d expect. Several problems are discussed individually, including SCUD (Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease). On the other hand, shell rot (necrotic dermatitis) is only mentioned as a possible complication of a fresh wound or injury. Egg-bound females are covered, a real plus!

17.)                        A Note on Salmonella in Turtles – Nice discussion on preventive measures. I’d like to have seen a brief spiel on what Salmonella is, what a typical course of Salmonellosis is like (time course, symptoms, severity) & the fact it’s treatable; maybe even an average % mortality from it.


Summary: An excellent compact concise complete 28 page booklet on slider & painted care highly recommended for new hobbyists & an interesting read for the veteran. Even without the video, a strong offering to get a grounding in the hobby. And how many care guides can do that in under an hour?

20 minutes Running Time Digitally Mastered VHS Hi-Fi Stereo Video.

            Given that a VHS tape at low-quality can hold about 6 hours of video, I was disappointed to see a run time of only 20 minutes. The case has a nice interior cover & the product looks sharp. My thoughts watching the video:

The quality’s okay but doesn’t seem any better to me than when I tape regular television with my VCR.

Opening: Fairly brief, tastefully pleasant opening bit.

Andy Highfield comes out; not how I’d pictured him. Makes me think of a young, leaner Benny Hill. Gives a brief overview re: keeping turtles that’s well done.

The Turtles: We’re shown side, carapace & plastron views of a RES & told a bit about it. Then we’re shown an Eastern painted turtle, but it’s just identified as a Painted Turtle, not one of the 4 distinctive subspecies. We’re shown the same side, carapace & plastron views (a viewer unfamiliar with painted turtles would think they all look like this!). It’s said painteds are of similar size to RES; I’d dispute that.

Sexing: We’re shown how to sex adults by front claw length & tail length & thickness.

Undergravel Filtration Discussion:  He shows us a low-walled rather square tank (like a breeder tank) with a UGF using a powerhead to move water. He mentions it has 1” of gravel; I’ve heard people recommend around 3”, & I would for tanks with a smaller footprint or a bit crowded conditions. He mentions that the amount of oxygenation is a critical factor in UGF function; given that some of us don’t like noisy surface agitation I’m glad he mentioned that. The example powerhead discharges water right at the water surface. He emphasizes the need for a large surface area of UGF coverage.

External Canister Filter Discussion: Opens view a view of a Fluval 103, an outdated filter you won’t be buying although the brand is good. We’re shown a video of canister filters, told they need be below the water line of the tank to work, & shown the tank water going through a hose to the base of the canister. Highfield says the water enters the base of the filter (newer models like the Fluval x04, FilStar XP and Eheim Pro II lines actually run both intake & output into the top of the filter). Media options are shown. He notes that the water is returned to the tank by means of a spray bar; this is true with FilStars (only they have a vertical spray bar; he shows a horizontal) and Eheim’s (which can be oriented any way you like); with the x04 line Fluval ditched the spray bars. His setup has the spray bar set a few inches above the water discharging outward; I personally don’t like the splashing racket, but he’s aiming for maximum oxygenation.

Water Changes Discussion: Here’s where he mentions the non-drip water changing system, and our good friend the Python is shown. I wish it was identified by name; perhaps it’s known by a different name in Great Britain? He mentions that partial water changes are necessary on a routine basis but doesn’t tell us how often or how much.

Internal (Self-Contained Submersible) Canister Filter Discussion: Nice discussion; he hits the important points, both good & bad. He even shows a neat way to hide one! We’re shown a short-term juvenile turtle setup example that’s tasteful.

Plastic Container Drainage Option: He notes plastic containers (as opposed to glass) allow you to install drainage valves. He shows that you can use this to drain water into a bucket; the effect looks like a water cooler.

Live Plants in the Turtle Tank: Now this tank looks nice. It’ll make you want one of those squared off breeder tanks! He shows duckweed; good stuff & I use it, but I wish he’d mentioned it can clog filter intakes that aren’t very deep, or if outflow creates a strong down current nearby (like with an AquaClear 500). I’m glad water hyacinth work for him; I haven’t had any luck with them indoors.

Oxygenation: Emphasizes important of high oxygenation for UGF’s & canister filters. He endorses using an air pump for this reason.

Heating & Lighting: Discusses importance of water temp. He shows some kind of odd-looking green plastic heater guard; not Tronic guard, but makes the point. Discussion of the need for guards & safety. He endorses about 80 degree water temp.s; many of us rec. 80 for hatchlings but 76-78 for adults. But that’s a difference of opinion, not something I can prove one way or another. Radiant basking heat discussed. Discusses ultraviolet radiation’s importance. He discusses heat & full-spectrum/UV-B lighting, including the need to avoid intervening glass with the latter.

Outdoor & Indoor Ponds: Ah, it’ll make you want one. Mentions need for plants for water quality & food, but doesn’t name a bunch here (although water hyacinth are mentioned). I’m glad he shows us good secure fencing. He shows us an ultraviolet sterilizer & the pump that sends it water. We’re shown a pond filter. He mentions using ponds for larger turtles, & shows a pre-formed pond above-ground setup like some of our form members have shown an interest in. A nice thing about a video is you can actually see just what the overall setup looks like quickly. A couple of filtration options are discussed for this pre-formed pond.

Feeding Your Turtles: He shows us options & favors dusting live foods with powdered supplements. He shows a large RES biting hunks out of a cuttlebone.

Closing: Brief & Tasteful.

Unfortunately, the Credits give the URL for Vidi-Herp but not Tortoise, a very valuable online treasure trove of freely available information on much of what the booklet & film cover. The booklet’s back cover does provide the link to this resource.

Summary: A nice video for a hobbyist new to turtles, a herpetological society with members interesting in a brief overview on turtle keeping, or for an enthusiast to educate family & friends with (like if you’re marrying someone who needs a rough knowledge of why you do the things you do).

The Video & Booklet Package Conclusion: A fine introduction to keeping sliders & painted turtles, although you’ll learn considerably more from the 28 page booklet than the 20 minute video. Very useful to new hobbyists, interesting to enthusiasts (if only to see what THE A.C. Highfield looks & sounds like) & useful for educating people.

            If they ever do a new edition, I’d like to see a lot more video footage of many different hobbyist setups, modern model canister filters (preferably comparing Fluval, FilStar & Eheim) & a discussion of more specific indoor & outdoor aquarium & pond plants. Footage showing large adult female RES, adults of all 4 subspecies of painted turtle with discussion of the size differences, & recommendations about minimum enclosure sizes for different sizes & #’s of adult turtles would be great. Footage of pyramiding & a discussion of the consequences of abnormally fast growth would be welcome. For that matter, a discussion of the upper limits of how large a RES should be at 6 months, 1 year & 2 years of age would be quite useful.

Richard Lunsford